In Matthew 22:21, Yeshua is quoted as saying “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto (the) GOD the things that are GOD’s” (KJV). This verse has been cited widely to support the notion of the separation of church and state, which I believe is a valid view, but there are other nuances that are often lost.
Part of that nuance is derived from the preceding verse: “Shew me the tribute money” (KJV) or “Display the currency of taxation” (Literal Alt). According to christswords.com, the Greek word translated as “money” derives “…from a word that means “anything sanctioned by current custom or usage”, “institution”, “coin”, “money,” and “full legal measure.” The closest English equivalent is “currency.” It then points out that “The meaning of “money” is the same as “custom” and “full legal measures.” Christ is conflating the use of money with the law and custom.” So, Christ set up the “money verse” by using a turn of phrase to link the physical money to both the law (government) and customs (culture).
In verse 21, we immediately bump into another nuance having to do with the meaning of the Greek word translated as Caesar. You wouldn’t think that could be very ambiguous, but context adds a shade of meaning not immediately obvious to modern readers but which would have jumped out immediately to those listening to Christ within the context of Roman Judea. That’s because the Roman coin in question would have had two important features which give the word Caesar a double meaning. The first feature is the image of Tiberius, the emperor at the time. This was the literal image of the Roman government, since Tiberius was the physical embodiment of the government, for all intents and purposes. The second feature would be the Latin inscription, most likely “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”, aka, the son of the Roman god Augustus. So, we have the son of the GOD referring to a coin minted in honor of the Roman son of a god.
So, Christ employed a double entendre by using the word Caesar, which meant both the government and the son of the Roman god in order to bring home the point that those that would trade in the coin of the government must repay to that worldly “god” out of the value provided by that “god”/government and likewise must repay to the Kingdom of the GOD out of the value provided by that GOD.
So why does this matter? It all has to do with authority and how several Biblical verses are interpreted. Specifically, given recent events, I want to focus on Romans 13:1-2:
“13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (NIV)
What does Matthew 22:21 tell us about these verses from Romans?
First, Christ’s words make a crucial contextual connection between the man, Caesar, and the government. When Paul, a Roman citizen, refers to “the governing authorities”, it is clear to his audience in first century Rome exactly who he was referring to: Tiberius. Granted, this also included all Roman officials, but in that world, their authority derived directly from Caesar. And, in the world view of Paul, Caesar’s authority derived directly from the GOD. This view of government authority prevails even to this day in many monarchies.
So, Paul is making this statement with the clear view that Caesar was God’s anointed, even if Tiberius would have been insulted by this idea. So, in that context, it’s clear that Paul is saying that the man, Caesar, that makes the rules is the one responsible to the GOD for the decisions made in ruling. This is important. Since Caesar’s word was law, he also was held responsible for the implications of that law in the eyes of the GOD.
Second, it brings home the importance of the fact that we don’t live in the Roman Empire. While I would hope this isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this, it is an extremely important point, and here’s why: we don’t have a man anointed as our ruler. Our laws do not derive their authority based upon the will of a single man. They derive their authority based upon the will of us, the people, within the constraints of our constitution. So, in the current context, Romans 13:1-2 would need to be rewritten as something like:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authority of the laws of the land as enacted by duly elected officials representing the majority will of our citizens, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God through the power vested in the citizens of our country. Consequently, whoever rebels (in an unlawful manner) against the authority is rebelling against what God, through the will of the people, has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.“
This wording is extremely important since in Rome, Caesar was the anointed authority, but in a representative democratic republic, we have no “god” through which the authority of the GOD is channeled. Instead, we have the constitution and our representative government that exists, not to rule the citizenry, but rather to serve it. The President is not a monarch. His word is not law. Neither does the congress rule. The only voice of the law is OUR VOICE. We are the anointed.
Consequently, just as Caesar was held responsible in the eye of the GOD for his decisions, so too are we held responsible for the decisions made by our government which are reflected in the actions and integrity of our elected officials. If our government promotes justice and equity and defends human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, get the credit, but if our government promotes injustice and inequity or violates human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, will be held accountable.
That is why it is so important for all of us, the anointed in this country, to hold our public servants responsible for ensuring that justice and equity are expressed in our laws and policies in a way that promote human rights and dignity. If we fail in this responsibility, we, the anointed, will pay the price.
Even if you don’t believe in the GOD, or any deity, this still holds true. If we fail to regulate those that represent our will in a way that promotes that which is good and fair and just, then we are condemning ourselves to suffering the consequences of allowing our government to become a vehicle of oppression and suffering.
Abuse invites further abuse. Injustice leads to further injustice. Eventually, a society that does not correct its course and reign in a government employing soulless persecution and abuse, will collapse into either totalitarianism or anarchy. In either case, a democratic republic that allows this to happen will fail.
Tying in another major theme of scripture, hospitality to foreigners (immigrants), magnifies the impact of the need to ensure our government is treating people, both citizens and non, humanely and justly. Right now, that isn’t happening on our border with Mexico. Right now, we the anointed, bear the consequence of inhumane actions acted out against immigrants seeking asylum. We will have to answer for our actions before the GOD, because we are the voice of the government.
I have heard many defenders of the zero tolerance policy change say things like “But these people were breaking the law, so they should be prosecuted.” Let’s examine that claim, shall we?
- What is the definition of an asylum seeker? Answer: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/asylum-seeker/
- What are the criteria used to determine the eligibility of an asylum seeker to be accepted by the United States as a refugee? Answer: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum
- Up until recently, victims of domestic or gang violence were included, but a new policy recently announced by A.G. Sessions rescinded their inclusion as official reasons for seeking sanctuary.
- What law is the subject of the new zero tolerance policy? Answer: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/crime-enter-illegally.html, but the most cogent part is summed up as such, “For the first improper entry offense, the person can be fined (as a criminal or civil penalty), or imprisoned for up to six months, or both. This is considered a misdemeanor under federal law.”
- What changed with the introduction of the new policy? Answer: Under the previous policy, first offenders of this law who voluntarily turned themselves in to border patrol claiming to petition for asylum were routinely subjected to civil proceedings, part of which was intended to attempt to evaluate the validity of the asylum request. This was especially true if the asylum seeking adult was accompanied by a minor. The change in policy resulted in 100% of these cases being processed under criminal law which triggered the required separation of children from adults who were jailed awaiting court proceedings.
“So, what is the big deal?”, I’ve heard defenders of this policy ask. “After all, aren’t children routinely separated from parents who get arrested for breaking the law?”
Good questions. Let’s examine the premise behind them. Yes, many parents, regardless of citizen status, have had custody of their children rescinded due to incarceration as a result of breaking the law. But, let’s be a bit more specific.
In general, the rule in our country (and most of the world) has been to only separate children from parents in extreme circumstances since it is a well established fact that doing so can do permanent psychological and emotional damage to children not to mention the extreme turmoil caused to the parent. One man has already committed suicide due to this policy separating him from his child.
Notice the clause in the law shown above that says “as a criminal or civil penalty“. The whole reason that is included in the law is to provide for enforcement discretion. The same sort of discretionary clauses are often included in laws, especially misdemeanors, as a means of avoiding criminal prosecution of everything from jay walking to speeding to trespassing.
It is very rare indeed for anyone to be subjected to criminal prosecution for a first misdemeanor offense and usually only occurs if there is some aggravating factor, such as driving 90 mph in a 20 mph active school zone.
So, the change in policy was tantamount to announcing a zero tolerance policy on speeding, without regard to aggravating factors, where every driver pulled over would be immediately arrested, carted off to jail, car impounded, and children, if present, processed by CPS since they can’t be booked into jail with the parent. I think it is safe to say that pretty much every citizen would be up in arms if that policy were to be announced.
So, attempting to defend the zero tolerance policy by pretending that the only alternative our government had in enforcing the law was to press criminal charges is simple disingenuous. This is especially true when you consider that the policy change was announced and enforced suddenly, with no grace period to allow for the word to spread amongst potential asylum seekers. In the past, such a drastic change in policy would have included a grace period out of humanitarian concerns.
Instead, springing this policy suddenly with no grace period appears to have been done with the intent of ensuring that unwitting asylum seekers illegally crossing accompanied by children would be arrested, resulting in separation from their children. Statements from the president himself indicate that this was done both as a “deterrent” and in an effort to gain political leverage on Democrats in an attempt to force them to fund the president’s border wall.
There is no reasonable way to justify enacting a policy with the express intent of causing innocent children to suffer in order to gain political leverage.
Another claim I have heard out of defenders of this policy is that these children will only be separated from their parents for a couple of days at most. While that may be some sort of ideal goal, it is not the reality on the ground. An article from vox, quotes Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families as telling reporters “that while his department is “under a legal obligation” to place children “expeditiously” with a sponsor, “we actually don’t have a time limit in terms of days” that children are allowed to stay in HHS care.” There are multiple reports of parents being deported without their children and of children disappearing into the system.
This is completely unacceptable. We, the anointed, will be held accountable. This is our government instituted to reflect our will.
So, what’s with the title of this post, “Money Really Isn’t Everything”?
I find it amusing that Yeshua used a Roman coin to make a point about value which shows that money, the coin, is not the only measure of value. There is another “coin” of value, Love, which is provided by the GOD and which requires us to return like value to the GOD by lavishing that Love on others. Money truly is not everything. The more important coin is Love. And, since we are the anointed, that love must also be reflected in our laws.
Finally, I leave you with one last Biblical passage that brings home what is really at stake here. From the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
We are the anointed. We are responsible.